Another View: 'Learn Everywhere' is no solution

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The fate of public education and New Hampshire's history of local control of public schools is too important to be decided quickly in acrimonious split decisions. The Learn Everywhere program sprung on the state by Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut is controversial, opposed by most educators, redundant and far from ready for prime time. It should not become law, yet it might.

As described on the Department of Education's website, the program would allow Edelblut's department, and ultimately the seven-member State Board of Education, to certify programs, both nonprofit and for-profit, to grant high school graduation credits to participating students. School districts, which would have no control over the programs, would be forced by state law to count at least one-third of such credits toward a student's graduation requirements, like it or not.

The change is opposed by the state's largest teachers' union, and the associations representing the state's school administrators, principals, school boards, special education administrators and the League of Women Voters.

In 2016, Edelblut nearly defeated Chris Sununu in the Republican gubernatorial primary. That set the stage for what was to come. Sununu, who won by less than 1% of the primary vote, went on to name Edelblut, a charter school proponent who had no education credentials beyond home-schooling his seven children, to be the state's commissioner of education. The Executive Council confirmed Edelblut's nomination along party lines, 3-2.

Learn Everywhere would allow any entity, from large corporations to a local garage that takes on an apprentice mechanic, as well as service groups and providers who charge to teach music, art, dance or a host of other subjects, to qualify to award credits toward graduation. Parents, rather than school districts, would supposedly foot the bill for the out-of-school education. The ability to confer graduation credits would give such businesses a valuable marketing tool and a reason to raise prices. That would, as critics argue, make extra-school opportunities even less affordable for students from households with limited means.

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Applicants to grant credit would ostensibly be vetted by the state school board. Its seven members are unpaid and charged with meeting at least six times per year. Only some have an education background. How much oversight and accountability could the board realistically provide? Earlier this month, the state board approved Edelblut's free-market proposal by a split vote, 4-3 - not a vote to inspire confidence in the plan.

School districts already have the opportunity to offer what are called Extended Learning Opportunities: for-credit internships, a job or work-study program, participation in a performing arts group, etc. The programs are similar to those Edelblut's would add but the latter would lack either district approval or appropriate accountability. A bill that would give school districts the option to accept credits under the program passed the House and Senate, but Sununu is expected to veto it.

Recently, in these pages, Fred Bramante, a past chairman of the state board, argued in favor of adopting Learn Everywhere because, in part, too few school districts offer Extended Learning Opportunities. He's right. But that's not because school districts don't want to. It's because they are so starved for state funding that they can barely fulfill their existing responsibilities.

Learn Everywhere, whatever merits it might have if properly constructed, is a sideshow to the real problem - the chronic, unconstitutional under-funding of public education by the state of New Hampshire. The shortfall that makes it difficult for schools to meet everyone's goal, an education individually tailored to the needs and interests of every child, one that guarantees that students emerge competent to maximize their potential, take their place as a lifelong learner and become a contributing member of society.

— The Concord (N.H.) Monitor


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